September 19, 2009
Source: flickr (User: Verizon Business)
Your extended team worked weeks and months to plan and strategize for your virtual event – now, it’s time to deliver. While your attendees enjoy the convenience of joining the virtual event from anywhere, the functional leads on your team ought to convene in a single physical location while supporting the event. As I wrote in a posting on Virtual Tradeshow Best Practices, it’s a good idea to set up a virtual event war room – or, what I prefer to call a Command Center.
The notion is ironic – attendees gather virtually, but the support team gathers in person? Well, there’s tremendous value to face-to-face when supporting a large scale event. The benefits include:
- Instant communication – If I discover an important issue, I can yell out my discovery and have the entire room hear me. Those responsible for addressing the issue can jump right onto it. I suppose you could set up an audio conference bridge to accomplish this sort of coordination, but sitting around the table (in the same room) makes it all the more convenient.
- Better facilitates instant collaboration and problem solving – if there’s an issue that requires triage, I can lean over and look over the shoulder at my colleague’s monitor. We can troubleshoot the issue together and call over other functional leads as necessary.
- Quick turnaround on requests – in any virtual event, there’s a series of requests that one functional team requires another to implement. Rather than handle the request communications via email or IM, it can be easier to walk to the other side of the room, communicate what’s needed and receive instant confirmation that the request is being addressed.
- Builds camraderie – whether it’s the large cheer in the room when the two thousandth attendee enters or the laughing and joking at a team member’s expense, being in the same physical location builds a sense of team closeness and camraderie that’s hard to achieve over a conference bridge.
I fully expect that technologies will emerge to make a virtual command center an intriguing possibility – for now, however, I’m a firm believer in gathering the support team face-to-face. Here are some best practices in configuring and running the command center:
- Carefully select the command center staff – you don’t want too many people in the room – however, you do want a lead from each functional area (e.g. Operations, Engineering, Marketing, Strategy, Communications, Support, etc.). Make sure the right staffers are present – and communicate to the rest of the extended team via IM, email and virtual meetings.
- Arrange the command center seating strategically – similar to how a business might arrange employees’ cubicle assignments, determine the common collaboration paths – and seat applicable combinations of people close to one another. This way, Operations doesn’t need to walk across the room to huddle with Engineering – instead, they can tap one another on the shoulder.
- Configure large-screen displays with dashboards – use the displays to show the virtual event in action – also create dashboards of key metrics that allow the team to spot trends or issues. For instance, a real-time graph of simultaneous users can flag a system issue if the upward trend line suddenly drops. Additionally, use displays to monitor attendee feedback, such as chat room activity and Twitter comments.
- Schedule regular checkpoint meetings – make sure the team has a chance to stop what they’re doing and take a step back to collectively review where things stand. You want to provide a summary of recent happenings (or metrics), highlight issues that need addressing and identify any key trends for the team to be aware of. Take a moment to review your key metrics and ask all functional leads to provide an update. With everyone moving at a fast pace, it’s important to pause and get a handle on the bigger picture.
And finally, what’s one last benefit of the command center? At the successful conclusion of your big event, you all get to go out together for the celebratory dinner.
2 Comments | Virtual Tradeshows (VTS) | Tagged: best practices, chat, command center, dashboard, face-to-face, IM, Twitter, Virtual Events, Virtual Meetings, virtual tradeshows, war room | Permalink
Posted by Dennis Shiao
February 21, 2009
Some day soon: virtual event on PDA?
Whether it’s business use or personal use, we’ve begun to expect that applications on our PDA’s mirror those available on our PC’s and laptops. For business, it’s largely corporate email today – the ability to read and respond (around the clock, I might add!). For personal use, it’s email (e.g. Yahoo Mail, Gmail, etc.), instant messaging, web browsing and (of course) interacting with our social media sites.
I recently purchased a BlackBerry 8830 – my first step (after verifying that calls to my cellular number were ported over to the BlackBerry) was to set up access to my corporate email. After that, the series of steps I embarked on were not unlike the set-up of a new PC or laptop – downloading applications that I’ve become accustomed to. The short list so far is:
- AOL Instant Messenger (AIM)
- A Twitter client (I selected TwitterBerry)
- The Facebook client for BlackBerry
With this collection of apps, I’m able to be on the go, but stay connected with corporate and personal email, stay in touch with friends and colleagues via AIM and keep tabs on my social networks (next up: the BlackBerry client for Netflix). Virtual events are a combination of business and social networking applications. Thus, I believe that pretty soon, business users will come to expect virtual events to work on their PDA’s.
Attendees would be able to visit vendor booths and peruse vendor content (while on the go) and exhibitors would be able to interact with booth visitors via a wireless connection. The “live date” of a virtual event is often planned months in advance – and often times, scheduling conflicts arise for exhibitors – whether it be an important client meeting or attendance at a physical event. I’m sure that exhibitors would value the convenience of doing basic booth duty from their PDA.
But how do we get there? First, formats like Flash (Adobe), Silverlight (Microsoft) and even JavaFX (Sun) will need stronger support and adoptoin onto PDA devices. From doing a quick set of Google searches, the adoption (and support) doesn’t seem quite there today. Here’s hopinng for a better tomorrow – where I’ll be seeing you at a virtual event … from our PDA’s.
1 Comment | Virtual Tradeshows (VTS) | Tagged: blackberry, Flash, IM, javafx, silverlight, Virtual Events, virtual tradeshows, wireless | Permalink
Posted by Dennis Shiao
February 11, 2009
Amanda Van Nuys, Linden Labs’ Director of Enterprise Marketing (and known in-world as Amanda Linden) has an interesting blog posting titled “Working in the Virtual World“. Amanda describes her use of Second Life for work-related meetings and collaboration. A neat physical/virtual tie-in was done with a conference room:
The physical conference room—Isabel—has a virtual counterpart that is an exact replica—Virtual Isabel. A camera in Isabel captures what’s happening in the room and displays it in the virtual space. Simultaneously, the participants in Virtual Isabel are projected on the wall of physical Isabel. The result is a seamless experience—two conference spaces, one real and one virtual, merge into one.
As for Amanda’s use of Second Life for meetings, she describes it as such:
These days, I’m spending at least 2-3 hours a day in Second Life, meeting with my colleagues distributed all over the world—collaborating, brainstorming, learning, and decorating my new office space in LindenWorld.
For companies with a highly distributed workforce, virtual worlds and their associated virtual meeting places can be a win-win scenario. I once met an employee of a Fortune 500 company who noted that he’d never met his manager, nor had he met any member of his entire team — except that he’ “met” them online, in web meetings, conference calls, Skype sessions, etc.
I’m a remote worker – I’m in the Bay Area, while the majority of my company is in the Chicago area. Fortunately for me, my company provides an internal virtual office platform that serves as an interactive intranet plus meeting and collaboration space. The virtual office is simply an application that rides on top of same platform that services virtual tradeshows, virtual career fairs and virtual sales meetings.
To be set up for a virtual meeting on our platform, here’s what I do:
- Login to the virtual office platform (via the web) – my co-workers and I do this as our first task once the computer boots up
- Activate my webcam
- Put on earbuds (so that the folks you’re speaking with don’t hear their voices reflect back into their sessions)
- Request a meeting with a co-worker within the platform
It’s as simple as that. I tend to have a few meetings per week in the virtual office, mixed with the more conventional meeting via telephony conference call. Here are the efficiencies I’ve seen with virtual office meetings:
- Lower overhead to start a meeting – since the virtual office provides presence indication, I know when a colleague is logged in. I can initiate a webcam session with a colleague in the same manner that I’d start up an Instant Messaging session. Compare this to the typical meeting “set-up”, where emails and Outlook invitations are sent and the meeting organizer awaits replies.
- Facilitates ad hoc, spur of the moment collaboration – similar to the gathering at the water cooler – or, the spontaneous brainstorming session around the whiteboard. But in the virtual office, the spontaneity occurs while you’re still at your desk. Additionally, requesting a virtual meeting session is very convenient – compare it to walking over to a colleague and tapping her on the shoulder. Here, your colleague accepts/declines the session with the click of a mouse. If she’s busy, she goes right back to what she was doing. It’s like IM’ing a colleague rather than calling her on the phone.
- Material related to the meeting is at your fingertips (or a mouse-click away) – my virtual office session is simply a tab in my Firefox browser. Information I need for a meeting is likely in another browser tab – or, in an application like Excel or Word. It’s highly convenient to toggle between these apps and have the information I need at my fingertips.
- Immediacy – ever attend a face-to-face meeting and take on an action item to send out a URL to all the meeting participants (when you get back to your desk)? In a virtual meeting, you can find that URL and copy/paste it into your messaging session. Now, your colleague(s) can review the URL in real-time and you can resolve issues (or obtain the necessary feedback) sooner.
- True facial expressions – in an avatar-based virtual space, I can emote via gestures or text comments. In a webcam-based virtual meeting, however, my colleagues can read my true facial expression. The virtual office platform that I use supports multi-user webcam chats (of up to 9 participants), so we can all see one another, as if we all piled into the same conference room.
I haven’t even mentioned the savings in carbon emissions and cost (i.e. the use of IP technologies and the bypass of the telephony network). I’ll always want to connect with colleagues in person – but, today’s technologies help remote workers get the job done – while increasing efficiency and productivity. A long day in the (virtual) office never felt so good!
6 Comments | Virtual Meetings | Tagged: avatar, face-to-face, IM, Second Life, skype, Telepresence, Virtual Meetings, virtual office, webcam | Permalink
Posted by Dennis Shiao
December 31, 2008
It’s the holy grail of online lead generation – you generate sales leads that pursue you and your company (rather than the other way around). This holy grail scenario often plays out in B-to-B Virtual Tradeshows. Some attendees come to the virtual event with approved budget, purchasing authority and a specific need. As such, they’re shopping around with the various exhibitors to see who offers the solution that best fits their requirements.
These attendees will ask you (or your colleagues) very specific questions, covering technical specifications, product features and pricing. At the conclusion of their visit, they may ask to be connected to a sales representative from your company. How better can it get for you as an online marketer? For this opportunity that fell into your lap – be sure to close the loop (with sales) on this lead or else the happy ending may be told by your competitor.
Here’s a sample chat that’s representative of what I’ve seen in virtual events:
Attendee: Thanks for the information about your products.
Exhibitor: You’re welcome!
Attendee: I’d like to set up a meeting to price out a configuration and discuss a few requirements that the product needs to meet
Exhibitor: Where are you based?
Attendee: New York City
Exhibitor: (a few minutes later) OK, the area sales manager for NYC is Bob Johnson. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org and his phone number is 212-555-1212.
Attendee: Thanks, I’ll contact him.
Not good enough! The exhibitor missed out on a golden opportunity here. Additional steps that I’d recommend:
- Copy/paste the transcript of the chat and immediately email it to Bob Johnson
- Connect with Bob via email, IM, etc. – letting him know about the hot lead
- Update your CRM system (e.g. Salesforce.com, SalesLogix, etc.) with the transcript of the chat and a summary of the sales inquiry
- Urge Bob to follow up immediately with the attendee — let the attendee know (during the chat session) that “Bob is ready to take your call right now” – or, “Bob will call you first thing in the morning”
- Get Bob to login to the virtual event right now – you already know that there’s one hot lead from his territory – a sales opportunity waiting for Bob to close
- Provide your own contact info to the attendee, letting her know that you can be contacted if Bob cannot be reached
Remember, leads in a virtual tradeshow can be very hot. Handle with care and don’t treat them like hot potatoes. If you do, then your competitors may be eating your lunch.
3 Comments | Virtual Tradeshows (VTS) | Tagged: B-to-B, CRM, IM, lead generation, sales prospects, Virtual Events, virtual tradeshows | Permalink
Posted by Dennis Shiao
December 22, 2008
In 2008, we began to see the migration of instant messaging features away from standalone client/server systems and onto the web, residing in-line with web page content. Thanks to folks like Meebo, Facebook and others, I see this trend taking off in 2009, as more and more social networking sites allow users to interact in real-time, right there on site pages.
In an BusinessWeek article titled “The End of Instant Messaging (As We Know It)“, Douglas MacMillan highlights this instant messaging shift. Meebo CEO Seth Sternberg had an interesting quote in this article:
“The interesting thing about live chat is that it forces the user to focus persistently. If a site’s [average engagement time] is three minutes, we can move it to six.”
I think an analogy can be made to engagement time in virtual events – the existence of chat (both private and public chat) extends the average engagement time of attendees. Smart social networks will be quick to incorporate a chat/IM feature in-page on their sites, like Flixster has done with Meebo (see BusinessWeek article for more info).
I’d argue that AOL’s Instant Messenger was the true genesis of the “social web” and the emergence of Web 2.0 has been in parallel to the disparate IM systems. Now that the two worlds are coming together, the social web becomes that much more social. This makes social networking sites stickier — and all the more better for it.
Leave a Comment » | Virtual Worlds | Tagged: AIM, IM, Instant Messaging, Meebo, social networks, Web 2.0 | Permalink
Posted by Dennis Shiao